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The 2020 Shadow Royals

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An old favorite returns, and old favorites leave

Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) watches after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas (8) watches after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Every year since 2012, our Overlord and Managing Editor, Max Rieper, runs the SB Nation offseason simulation. In each simulation, representatives of each 30 Major League Baseball team, most of whom write for their club’s respective SB Nation team blog, participate in a three-day flurry of fake trade activity and free agent bidding that functions somewhat akin to a fantasy league.

While no games are played with these rosters, the inherent competitiveness of our participants reigns supreme as each fake—or “shadow”—general manager does their best to assemble a team they’d like to see on the field in 2019. The result is a pretty extensive and unique look at what could be and what we wish to be in the offseason.

Former Royals Review writer Josh Duggan—aka “Old Man Duggan”—has helmed the Shadow Royals every single year since its inception. Seven Shadow Years have come and gone under his reign. But Duggan’s time at Royals Review is over, and with it his purview over the Shadow Royals.

This year, I was in charge. The pressure was on. Duggan’s searing eyes were upon me. So, how’d it go? Let’s take a look.

2019 Shadow Royals Offseason

Transaction #1 and Transaction #2: Royals decline the mutual option on Alex Gordon, Non-Tender Cheslor Cuthbert

Just as in real life, the Royals turn down their side of the mutual option with Gordon, who becomes a free agent. In the universe of the Shadow Royals, Gordon decides to retire. It was a good run for the legendary Royal. Meanwhile, Cuthbert, a poor hitter and defender without options and due nearly $2 million, was an easy choice to non-tender.

Transaction #3: Royals trade LHP Tim Hill to Athletics for INF Franklin Barreto

The first real transaction with a new player was surprisingly easy. I considered trading Hill, an effective LOOGY making the league minimum, but I hadn’t even put together thoughts before the Athletics emailed me their offer: Hill for Barreto, straight up.

I assented on the offer and the deal was done. Hill will turn 30 before the 2020 season and, as a reliever, that means that his shelf life is limited. Furthermore, Hill isn’t a guy that you can reliably use against right- and left-handed hitters. In return, I got Barreto, who has played all around the infield. The 23-year-old Barreto has some lumps—he has a 3.3% walk rate against a 40.7% strikeout rate in 209 big league plate appearances—but was a top-50 prospect in all of baseball per Baseball America as recently as pre-2018. Barreto slides in as the Shadow Royals utility infielder.

Transaction #4: Royals sign Mike Moustakas to a 4-year, $60 million contract

Let me tell you a short story. This is a story about the Kansas City Royals in 2019 not named Hunter Dozier who played third base, second base, or first base:

  • Ryan McBroom: 23 games, 0.3 WAR, 95 wRC+
  • Cheslor Cuthbert: 87 games, -0.8 WAR, 74 wRC+
  • Lucas Duda: 39 games, -1.0 WAR, 46 wRC+
  • Ryan O’Hearn: 105 games, -1.0 WAR, 69 wRC+
  • Nicky Lopez: 103 games, -0.2 WAR, 56 wRC+
  • Chris Owings: 41 games, -0.6 WAR, 5 wRC+
  • Kelvin Gutierrez: 20 games, 0.0 WAR, 72 wRC+

That’s a gigantic yikes if there ever was one. In order to hedge against the fart noise that was three entire positions for the 2019 team, I brought in an old favorite as the ultimate hedge. Moose slots in naturally at third base, but he demonstrated the ability to adequately handle second base in Milwaukee and can easily shift to cover first if the need arises. Meanwhile, this plus Gordon’s retirement means that Dozier shifts to left field full time—a better position for his athletic talents.

Fun Transaction Facts

  • My opening bid on Moose was 4 years, $44 million.
  • There was a bidding war and at least one other 4/$60 offer on the table, but Moose chose to return to KC.

Transaction #5: Royals trade Whit Merrifield, Danny Duffy, and $10.75 million to the Reds for Jonathan India and Nick Lodolo

Ah yes, the big one. The one we were all waiting for. At this point, it would be understandable for you to wonder what on earth my philosophy is here with two seemingly mutually exclusive moves back-to-back. Allow me to explain myself a little here.

I wanted to make the 2021 and on clubs competitive. To do so, I wanted to give the Royals as long a competitive window as possible, and the simple best way to do that is to trade proven, expensive veterans for premium, cheap prospects. However, I also knew that the Royals had money to spend, and that a player signed in 2020 could still compete in 2021 and beyond without costing the team any prospects.

By trading Merrifield and Duffy, I not only saved $20 million that I would have paid otherwise, but I received two consensus top-100 prospects in India and Lodolo. India is more of a sure thing, of course; the third baseman is himself a hedge against Moose losing his edge at third as well as a top prospect in his own right. India likely makes his debut in 2020, but the addition of Moose gives him room to advance on his own terms. Meanwhile, As the seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft and the first pitcher of the draft, Lodolo sports three above-average pitches and is likely to be a fast riser.

Fun Transaction Facts

  • Additional interest in Merrifield came from the Indians, Cubs, Phillies, and White Sox.
  • Andrew Vaughn was a name tossed in the White Sox discussions, who was ultimately pulled back. The deal died as a result.
  • Discussions with the Phillies were very deep. After a fair amount of back and forth, I offered a final deal of Whit only for Adonis Medina, Bryson Stott, and Damon Jones. The Phillies declined. Their unwillingness to deal Stott or Spencer Howard contributed to me pulling the trigger with the Reds.

Transaction #6: Royals trade Ian Kennedy and $14.5 million to the Braves for Jasseel de la Cruz

The real Royals and the real Braves were rumored to have a deal in place with Kennedy, cash, and Kansas City area native Joey Wentz before Royals ownership nixed the deal. In the simulation, the Braves came a-knocking for Kennedy. A similar deal was ultimately paid off, with me fronting all but $2 million of Kennedy’s salary.

Jasseel de la Cruz is a 22-year-old, 40+ FV starting pitcher with a good fastball and slider and underwhelming command and changeup. If he can stick as a starter, great; de la Cruz did fair pretty well in his Double-A debut in 2019 with a 3.83 ERA over 16 starts. If not, he’s a very intriguing bullpen guy, and the Royals need a lot of those.

Fun Transaction Facts

  • I almost pulled off a similar deal with the Cubs regarding Cory Abbott, a 24-year-old starter who has done nothing except destroy poor minor league hitters with strikeout rates hovering at 30% and walk rates below 10%. However, the Cubs wanted me to pay Kennedy’s full salary and toss in a flier to get him.

Transaction #7: Royals sign Jarrod Dyson to a 1-year, $3 million deal

The Royals’ outfield options sans Gordon and Merrifield are a little thin at the moment. Waiting in the wings are Nick Heath and Khalil Lee, but neither are good enough prospects to be sure things—a statement that also applies to Bubba Starling or Brett Phillips.

In the three seasons since Dyson was last a Royal, the 35-year-old outfielder nevertheless accrued 3.7 WAR per Fangraphs. He still plays great defense and is a great baserunner, and could be an attractive piece at the deadline.

Fun Transaction Facts

  • After rumors swirled that the market for Yasiel Puig wasn’t developing, I almost signed Puig. I offered 4 years and $36 million. Puig’s agent reported that Puig was hesitant on joining Kansas City. I upped my offer to 4 years and $40 million, later withdrawing my offer once I re-examined the approach. Puig signed with the San Diego Padres for 3 years and $33 million.

Transaction #8, Transaction #9, and Transaction #10: Royals sign Jeremy Hellickson, Tony Sipp, and Trevor Rosenthal to minor league deals

Last year, the Royals tied up nearly $20 million in veterans in guaranteed money. Other than Dyson’s $3 million, I wanted to avoid that.

Rosenthal and Hellickson are classic buy-low candidates with plenty of upside. The 32-year-old Hellickson was worth 1.7 WAR per Baseball-Reference as recently as 2018, and the 29-year-old Rosenthal is still dealing with the fallout from a Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2018 season. Meanwhile, Sipp is standard issue veteran roster depth.

Fun Transaction Facts

  • I also offered minor league deals to old friends Edinson Volquez and Ben Zobrist and old enemy Matt Harvey. Volquez decided to retire, Harvey went to a contender, and I pulled my offer for Zobrist after I made the Hill trade. Somewhat shockingly, Zobrist went unsigned.
  • Alcides Escobar was apparently desperate to return to Kansas City on even a minor league deal, and his “agent” made multiple pitches to do so. Unshockingly, I did not assent, and Escobar went unsigned.

Transaction #11 and Transaction #12: Royals extend Jorge Soler and Brad Keller

No, this is not an official part of the sim, but I operated the sim under the assumption that I would also do these things, and because this is all make believe anyway you’re just gonna have to go with it. After the previous 10 transactions, my 2020 payroll stood at $80 million. That gave me room to do both these items.

MLB Trade Rumors opines that a Soler extension would be in the 5 years, $60 million range. That bumps my payroll up to about $82 million. Keller’s extension is trickier, but a similar-ish comp could be the extension the Tampa Bay Rays gave to Chris Archer in April 2014. Let’s say that it would give Keller about $6 million a year through 2023 and then add a few option years afterwards. After Keller’s extension, the payroll would be looking at $88 million; this is $12 million below my suggested payroll cap.

2019 Shadow Royals roster

Position Players

  • 1B Ryan O’Hearn
  • 2B Nicky Lopez
  • 3B Mike Moustakas
  • SS Adalberto Mondesi
  • LF Hunter Dozier
  • CF Brett Phillips
  • RF Bubba Starling
  • C Salvador Perez
  • DH Jorge Soler

Bench

  • Ryan McBroom
  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Franklin Baretto
  • Cam Gallagher

Starters

  • Brad Keller
  • Jake Junis
  • Foster Griffin
  • Mike Montgomery
  • Jeremy Hellickson

Relievers

  • Scott Barlow
  • Richard Lovelady
  • Kyle Zimmer
  • Jake Newberry
  • Jesse Hahn
  • Jorge Lopez
  • Eric Skoglund
  • Trevor Rosenthal

This team isn’t a good pitching team. Not by a long shot. Griffin and Hellickson are total guesses, but there’s an upside there that you don’t get with Jorge Lopez giving up five runs a start.

However, the lineup has some decent promise. Dozier is a very good pure hitter, and he’s paired with a power bat on both sides of the plate in Soler and Moose. Perez will be a gigantic offensive upgrade over everything the Royals brought to the catcher position in 2018, and the four could, by themselves, smack a combined 100 home runs. Meanwhile, O’Hearn, Mondesi, and Lopez are young enough and talented enough that their offensive ceilings have likely yet to be reached.

The 2020 Shadow Royals also boast the following prospects, all of whom are in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in all of baseball:

  • 20 - Bobby Witt Jr.
  • 51 - Jonathan India
  • 58 - Jackson Kowar
  • 66 - Daniel Lynch
  • 84 - Brady Singer
  • 90 - Nick Lodolo

So, how’d I do? Did I do Duggan proud? Did I do the Royals proud? Leave a comment and let me know.